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Democrats Work to Push Relief Bill through Senate; COVID-19 Reaches 116 Million Cases Worldwide, 25 Million Deaths; U.N. Security Council Split on Response to Myanmar Coup, Violence; Russian Pipeline Testing Biden's Resolve; Central Americans Now Think It's Easier to Enter U.S.; Oprah's Interview with Harry and Meghan; Pilots' Perspective on Flying during the Pandemic. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 6, 2021 - 04:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hi. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. Coming up --


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Make no mistake, we are going to continue working until we get the job done.

CURNOW (voice-over): Burning the 4:00 am oil in the U.S. Senate as efforts to jumpstart the economy crawls slowly through a slew of partisan amendments.

And Pope Francis is in Iraq. A historic meeting with the country's top Shiite cleric.

Plus, a somber song on the streets of Myanmar, pleading for international help to stop the slaughter.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: It's just after 4:00 am Eastern time in the U.S. and the Senate remains in session, working on the president's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

Democrats voted down Republican efforts to end debate and resume later on in the morning. So, the senators are now still at it, after a marathon negotiation over unemployment benefits. Here is our Ryan Nobles with more on all of this -- Ryan.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Senate is inching closer to passing that COVID relief package that will deliver some $1.9 trillion worth of aid to Americans from coast to coast. But it hasn't been an easy process. The Senate Republicans putting up

roadblocks along the way, including throwing a potential alternative to the unemployment insurance extension that was put in the bill originally by the House.

Democrats had already changed the plan, going from $400 a week to $300 a week but extending it out until the end of September but also including a tax credit of up to $10,000 for individuals that received this unemployment insurance benefit.

Now Republicans thought that was too much and they offered up a plan that would end the unemployment benefit in July. And that piqued the interest of West Virginia senator Joe Manchin.

So, for several hours on Friday, the two sides hammered out an alternative plan because Manchin was considering supporting the Republican version, which would have been dead on arrival when this bill went back to the House of Representatives.

They settled on a plan that would be $300 a check; it would expire on September 6th, there would still be that tax credit, but it will only be eligible to people who make less than $150,000 a year.

That then kicked in the process known as vote-a-rama, which is a necessary part of a process when you have a bill passed through reconciliation, which means it only needs 51 votes to pass.

This is the opportunity for any senator to offer up an amendment to the bill that needs to be voted up or down before it can get out of the Senate. That process has continued throughout Friday night into Saturday morning.

We're not exactly sure when it will all wrap up. But at the end of all this, we expect Democrats will have the votes they need to pass this legislation. It will go back to the House before the House passes it and then it goes to President Biden for his signature. Still could be some wrinkles along the way before we get to that point.


NOBLES: But Democrats crossed a big hurdle by getting Manchin's support for that unemployment insurance. We're not exactly sure how long this process will last but Democrats are hoping they have this bill passed and on the president's desk by March 14th -- Ryan Nobles, CNN, on Capitol Hill.


CURNOW: Thanks, Ryan, for that.

The pace of vaccinations in the U.S. keeps improving. The country is now averaging about 2 million shots a day. That means more than 8 percent of American adults are now fully vaccinated.

According to a CNN analysis, if vaccinations continue at this pace, the U.S. could reach herd immunity between late July and early September. Lucy Kafanov has more COVID headlines from the U.S.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We will be releasing this guidance soon.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vaccinated Americans are still waiting for the CDC to release its new guidelines, which were expected this week.

WALENSKY: Our goal and what is most important is that people who have been vaccinated and those not yet vaccinated are able to understand the steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The White House says there's nothing nefarious about the holdup. But with vaccinated Americans wanting to know things like when they can hug their grandkids, frustrations are growing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to get back out there.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Like it or not, people are going to be resuming some of their pre-pandemic lives after getting vaccinated.

Why don't we provide them with the best guidance that we can?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Relax your arm, sir.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Those shots of hope averaging 2 million per day now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, I was so excited.

KAFANOV (voice-over): A new survey shows nearly 70 percent of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already gotten the shot.


KAFANOV (voice-over): Three vaccines now being offered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're all in the same ballpark. Get the one that's available to you.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Picking and choosing, well, that landed Detroit's mayor in hot water.

MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D-MI), DETROIT: Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the city of Detroit get the best.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The White House describing the mayor's remarks as a misunderstanding.

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: We have been in constant dialogue with Mayor Duggan, who said -- in fact, that was not what he said, or however -- however it was reported. In fact, he is very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Mayor Duggan walking his remarks back today, saying he now has full confidence that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is both safe and effective.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi:

KENNY WILLIAMS, OWNER, MOSAIC RESTAURANT & BAR AND THE BEER HOUSE AMERICAN PUB: I just can't tell you how tickled I am that we're maybe going to see everybody jammed in one day.

KAFANOV (voice-over): More states are rolling back COVID-19 safety rules but keeping their mask mandates, like businesses in West Virginia, which will return to 100 percent capacity tomorrow, and Connecticut, which is lifting capacity caps in offices, retail and restaurants in the coming weeks.

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): We thought, this is something we know we can do safely.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Denver.


CURNOW: And the director general of the World Health Organization says COVAX has delivered 20 million vaccines to international countries. COVAX is the international program set up to get vaccines to the world's poor.

Last week, Ghana and Ivory Coast became the first countries to administer the COVAX provided vaccines. The WHO is also warning Brazil not to relax in the fight against the virus. Hundreds of trucks blocked a major highway in Sao Paulo during rush hour on Friday morning.

The drivers were protesting a two-week shutdown on all but essential businesses today. This comes as cases in Brazil are soaring, where health officials are saying people should remain vigilant.


DR. MICHAEL RYAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Now is not the time for Brazil or anywhere else, for that matter, to be relaxing. When I say this, I have the same feeling myself.

The arrival of vaccine is a moment of great hop, but it is always, potentially, also, is a moment where we lose concentration. If I think I'm going to get a vaccine in the next few weeks, the next 6 weeks, the next 2 months, maybe I'm not so careful anymore. Maybe I think I'm through this, right?

You don't need a whole lot of people to start thinking like that to give the virus opportunities to spread.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CURNOW: And Europe certainly has a message for coronavirus vaccine makers: deliver the doses you've agreed to provide. This comes after Italy decided to block the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia.

Meanwhile, officials in Germany say 40 percent of cases there are the variant first identified in the U.K. They fear it will become the dominant strain and is more contagious.

And good news for Britain, the reproduction number has fallen below 1, which indicates the epidemic is shrinking. The R number represents how many other people infected one person can infect.

Health secretary Matt Hancock gave an upbeat appraisal of the U.K.'s vaccination process.



MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: We're on course to hit our target of offering a first dose to everyone who is over 50 or part of an at-risk group by the 15th of April and all adults by the end of July.



CURNOW: Dr. Peter Drobac is a global health and infectious diseases expert at University of Oxford, and he joins me now from Oxford.

We heard the health secretary giving this pretty upbeat assessment there.

The U.K.'s early action seems to have paid off, hasn't it?

DR. PETER DROBAC, OXFORD UNIVERSITY: Thank you for having me, Robyn. Absolutely. Lots of reasons to be upbeat. I wish his assessment would have included a more meaningful pay rise for the National Health Service workers. They've done an extraordinary job now reaching at least 40 percent of adults with at least one dose of vaccine.

We're seeing now meaningful, real-world evidence that vaccinations are reducing deaths, reducing hospitalizations and having some effect at reducing transmission, so validating all the great evidence we saw from the clinical trials.

So, we're in a good place. At the same time, there's a note of caution right now, you know, we're just about to relax restrictions after a very difficult third lockdown over the last couple of months.

Meanwhile, having seen, you know, the appearance of some of the more concerning new variants arrive into the country. So the next weeks and months, as we continue the vaccine rollout and also on have a test and trace program that's not quite up to scratch and have border restriction issues, it's going to be a very delicate balancing act if we're going to get off this roller coaster.

CURNOW: But the Europeans, no doubt, looking across the Channel at the vaccine rollout in the U.K. The U.K., of course, no longer tied to Brussels' decision making after Brexit and no doubt Europeans looking with some envy at exhaustion.

How has the E.U. got it so wrong?

They're blaming the vaccine companies.

But is that, about right?

DROBAC: There are a number of issues, of course, across the world. We have a global shortage and these supply chains are fragile. Unfortunately, the vaccine nationalist moves like we saw yesterday when Italy blocked the export of vaccines to Australia is not going to help to ramp up production. It's only going to make the supply lines less predictable.

There are a number of things that have gone wrong. Some of the early work on securing vaccine agreements, early comments by some politicians and health experts in Europe undermined confidence in some of the vaccines. And they're seeing a slower uptake of vaccines and some vaccines are sitting on the shelves.

So there are a number of things happening right now. I do expect things to pick up, that some of these are teething problems and the pace of vaccination will improve. Over the last week, we've seen transmission start to increase again in Europe, contrary to global trends. And I think the public is weary of restrictions at this time.

CURNOW: And then, of course, also looking at the U.S., America always does it bigger and better, doesn't it?

Worst death rates in the world but now this gathering rollout that promises to have all citizens vaccinated by the summer.

What do you make of these promises?

Do you think herd immunity is possible so quickly for the U.S.?

DROBAC: I think the most exciting COVID news this week is the announcement from the Biden administration of this new partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck to scale up manufacture of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It's a great example of the public-private partnership and creative thinking that we need to massively scale up vaccinations. You mentioned COVAX delivering the first few million vaccines to low and middle income countries. We need more thinking like that.

This is exciting in the U.S., which has seen so much suffering and, realistically, it's probably six months away in the best-case scenario before we see meaningful progress. So what I am concerned about, however, is taking our foot off the gas and relaxing those restrictions and mask mandates too quickly. CURNOW: Indeed, we are seeing some concerns about spring break and

that fueling these new variants because in the fervor to reopen, you've heard the number of states and local areas that have decided that they're going to go ahead and reopen.

How can that refuel the development of these variants in many ways?

DROBAC: Nothing has changed about the behavior of this virus, except that, because of some of the new variants, they become more transmissible. So, we know when we have people who are moving and traveling in close proximity without masks, there will be a spike in transition. We've seen again and again and again super spreader events through travel, through parties, through holiday gatherings, etcetera.

None of that is different. We can't just wish it would go away and expect that to happen and 8 percent of the population being vaccinated is nowhere near providing any kind of population level protection.


DROBAC: So, you know, it feels like deja vu like we saw in Texas and elsewhere with the opening of restaurants and canceling of mask mandates. The results will be predictable, and they won't be pretty.

Unfortunately, when you have some proportion of the population that's well vaccinated and another portion of the public that is out in society, it's fertile ground for the emergence of new variants. This is a critical time when we need to double down on the public health measures that we know work.

CURNOW: Peter Drobac, always good to speak to you live from Oxford.

DROBAC: Thank you.

CURNOW: To the pope's historic visit to Iraq now, right now, Pope Francis is wrapping up an interfaith meeting on the ancient plains of Ur before heading to Baghdad. It's been a busy day for the pope.

He met hours ago with the grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf. Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad and can tell us more about a busy itinerary so far and the implications and the meaning of this.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Today's focus is on interfaith encounters. Certainly, his meeting with the grand ayatollah is significant in the sense that Ali al-Sistani is somebody who is not involved in the nuts and bolts of daily politics here.

He is 90 years old. But at critical junctures in modern Iraqi history, he has intervened. Back in 2005, he issued an edict, telling Iraqis, during some of the darkest days of the American occupation, when violence was at its peak, he said, yes, go out and vote, participate in elections.

In 2014, he told all able-bodied Iraqi men to go join the war against ISIS at a time when the Iraqi army was collapsing, and their intervention was critical to save this country from ISIS.

And this is a man who is a leading authority of Shia Islam. So, for the pope to meet with him -- and these meetings are very rare with the grand ayatollah -- represent the other part of his interfaith efforts.

Keeping in mind, in 2019, Pope Francis signed a document of fraternity with the grand imam representing the Sunni branch of Islam. So, this is very important.

Right now, as you said, he's winding up in Ur this meeting with representatives of Iraq's many different religions and sects. This is the birthplace of the patriarch, Abraham. The three great Abrahamic religions are Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

So, they're joined by that common thread, all these representatives of these religious representatives here in Iraq.

CURNOW: Thanks so much. Ben Wedeman, thank you.

Just ahead, defiance in Myanmar.


CURNOW (voice-over): Anti-coup protesters are flooding the streets and pleading for international help.

Also coming up, the worsening crisis as security forces are violently cracking down with deadly force.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is actually a massacre. It's a slaughter by the security forces against unarmed protesters.






CURNOW: At least 20 people have been killed in a car bombing in Somalia. Police say the vehicle packed with explosives blew up outside a restaurant on Friday in the capital, Mogadishu. The terror group Al- Shabaab has claimed responsibility.

And protesters in Myanmar are coming out in droves, despite a deadly week of protests.


CURNOW (voice-over): Earlier, hundreds could be heard singing as a show of defiance. Amnesty International is saying troops are shooting to kill.


THIN LEI WIN, JOURNALIST: What we're seeing is not a war zone, it is actually a massacre. It's a slaughter by the security forces against unarmed protesters. And it is a very grim but, in a way, determined atmosphere.

We have seen day after day, protesters, despite the dangers, coming back again and again just to show how angry they are and that they're not going to stop.


CURNOW: Many are pleading for international help. They're calling on the United Nations to uphold its responsibility to protect or R2P principle. The Myanmar parliament's envoy to the U.N. told CNN something must be done.


DR. SASA, MYANMAR PARLIAMENT ENVOY TO THE U.N.: This illegal military regime has declared the war on the people of Myanmar. So, no one is safe. So, number one, we need the safe thing. That means the international community have the responsibility to protect when the state fails to protect its own people. So, we are asking the international community to look at that.


CURNOW: CNN's Will Ripley has been following the latest developments from Hong Kong -- Will.



WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pictures we are seeing coming out of Myanmar right now demonstrate an extraordinary act of bravery on the part of hundreds, if not thousands, who, despite increasingly deadly wave of brutality by the military dictatorship, continue going out into the streets, continue to peacefully protest, to demand democracy, to demand the results of the election back in November that were a landslide for the National League for Democracy be honored by the brutal dictatorship, which only got a handful of votes for their proxy parties and decided it was because of widespread election fraud, a claim that is unfounded.

At least 55 people have been killed since February 1st in these peaceful protests. And we do need to underscore that these are peaceful. The military has claimed some of these people are rioters who are armed. Using one example recently, citing two people who may have had smoke grenades on them.

Well, the soldiers are using live ammunition on those people. And more than half of those who have been killed are young people under the age of 25, 17 of them under 20. These were people who came of age after 2011, after the military gave up 50 years of a brutal dictatorship that crushed any dissenting voices. These people grew up in a time when Myanmar was starting to experiment with democracy, to allow for greater democratic reforms, to hold elections. Even though the military still kept its hand in the levers of power, preserved high-level positions for itself.

But after that humiliating landslide defeat in November, that simply wasn't enough. Human rights groups say, for the military leaders, dismissing those claims of election fraud and saying it's all about power and all about money.

And now, as people continue to stand up to this, there is mounting evidence that the shoot to kill mentality is happening more and more, with at least 38 people killed on Wednesday alone, bodies seen in pools of blood lying in the street. Amnesty International calling it textbook brutality -- Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


CURNOW: And the U.N. Security Council remains divided on how to act on the worsening crisis. However, protesters appear determined to defy security forces no matter what. Here is Paula Hancocks with more on that. Paula.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Protesters bang pots and pans on the streets in central Myanmar, unaware it is about to turn deadly. They duck and run for cover, as security forces start to fire, and 22-year-old Zin Ko Ko Zaw is shot in the head.

His brother carries him to a waiting ambulance, but it's too late.

Reliving that moment, he tells me, "My brother was shot and fell down. Blood was coming from his mouth and his head. I dragged him away from there and he died in my arms."

His parents say he was the breadwinner of the family, working at the local market. They were all at the protest together, his mother says, but were separated when the shooting began. She says, "We are risking our lives to claim victory. We don't have any weapons, but they are fully armed. All we can do this protest. They're shooting us with live bullets. Please help us."

Makeshift hospitals were set up for the injured, treating a steady flow of protesters with gunshot wounds.

TOM ANDREWS, U.N. SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN MYANMAR: Now we're seeing orders that police and military soldiers shoot people down in cold blood.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): Security forces were caught on camera, taking three charity workers from their ambulance in Yangon and beating them with guns and batons. The charity says the three are now in hospital with non-life- threatening injuries. HANCOCKS: Is anybody safe at this point?

ANDREWS: No. No one is safe. I mean, here, ambulance workers, people that are there purely to save lives, to help anyone who is -- who needs emergency medical care. They're not there to hurt anyone. They're there to help everyone.

HANCOCKS (voice-over): The level of force being used by security forces has increased since Sunday. Dozens have now been killed across the country. Activists on the ground say the actual death toll is far higher than that the United Nations has been able to confirm.

Makeshift shrines are emerging on the streets where protesters fell. Funerals are becoming a daily occurrence.

As Zin Ko Ko Zaw's family prepares for his funeral, they say they hope his death has not been in vain. His parents praying the next to fall will be the military dictatorship that took their son -- Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


CURNOW: Shelters at the southern U.S. border are seeing a staggering increase in migrant children. What the Biden administration is doing to try to alleviate overcrowding. We will have a report from the border, that's next.

Also, some lawmakers from Washington are putting more pressure on President Joe Biden to apply sanctions over a Russian pipeline.


CURNOW: How Vladimir Putin's project is testing President Biden's resolve.




CURNOW: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Thanks for joining me.

New developments at the southern U.S. border, the Biden administration is racing to find space for an increasing number of Central American families, especially unaccompanied children. A DHS official tells CNN, quote, "We're not keeping up with the number of migrant children now entering the U.S."

And a memo obtained by CNN shows the administration has told care facilities they can open back up to prepandemic levels to try to accommodate all of these children. Ed Lavandera is at the border and he filed this -- Ed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This week, Father Roy Snipes has welcomed about 100 migrant families a night to seek shelter in this south Texas church, overflowing from another shelter down the road.

No longer are migrant children being separated from their parents. These families are allowed to wait in the United States for their asylum cases to be heard in court.

We met 21-year-old Kenya (ph). The shelter asked that we protect her identity. She left Honduras two weeks ago with her son and crossed the Rio Grande into the U.S. a few nights before.

LAVANDERA: Why did you decide to come now?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Many migrants are still being turned away at the southern border. But the growing reality for the Biden administration is that there's a perception in Central American, countries ravaged by crime and natural disasters, that it's now easier to make the journey north and cross the border.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas insists this isn't a crisis but a challenge.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are working as hard as we are, not only in addressing the urgency of the challenge but also in building the capacity to manage it and to meet our humanitarian aspirations in execution of the President's vision.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The numbers of migrants arriving at the southern border is growing. In January, Customs and Border Protection reported about 7,500 families were taken into custody and 5,800 unaccompanied children.

During a major surge exactly two years ago, Border Patrol encountered 5,500 children in one month. The Department of Health and Human Services told facilities to open bed space for minors to pre-pandemic levels, which is just under 14,000.

There are now about 7,700 children under HHS care. And the concern is that number will rise quickly in the coming weeks.

REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): The way we're going, I think it's going to become a crisis.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Now some Texas Democrats are warning the Biden team about what's unfolding.

CUELLAR: They seem to be on a mission, with all due respect, to start releasing and show that they're compassionate. I want to be compassionate. But I also think people should be compassionate to our communities on the border. LAVANDERA (voice-over): At the same time, activists are also pressuring Biden to undo what they see as damage from the Trump administration.

LEE GELERNT, ACLU LAWYER: People are willing to give them a break in the beginning. But I think that break will soon be over if they don't move very quickly.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): In the south Texas shelter, several migrants told us they saw many children traveling to the border alone.

LAVANDERA: How old were these children that you saw?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

LAVANDERA: (Speaking Spanish).?

They would act like they were part of a family to protect them from.

LAVANDERA: The Biden administration says it's trying to create a far more humanitarian approach to its U.S. immigration policies. That's why they're urging migrants in Central America that now is not the time to come.

But situation is quickly changing and even the administration's supporters are urging the president to act fast before there is yet another full-blown immigration crisis on the border -- Ed Lavandera, CNN.


CURNOW: Thanks, Ed, for that piece.

Some U.S. lawmakers are putting pressure on the White House to stop the construction of a major gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Republican senator Ted Cruz is delaying the confirmation of President Biden's pick for CIA director hoping to force the administration to impose sanctions on the builders. Nic Robertson has more on this -- Nic.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): As recently as last month, a Russian pipelaying ship has been breaking U.S. sanctions, banning construction of Russia's direct to Germany undersea Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Vladimir Putin wants President Joe Biden to back down on sanctions.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): The nearly completed 770-mile Russian German gas pipeline that bypasses U.S. ally Ukraine, if finished not only boosts Russia's gas sales to Europe but scores a strategic victory for Putin. KORTUNOV: It is definitely going to be perceived not just as successful completion of a commercial project but also as a political victory for the Russian Federation.

NEIL MELVIN, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, RUSI: Ukraine is really the prize both for the Europeans and for the Russians. And so, the gas issue will undoubtedly shift that balance back towards Moscow.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): President Joe Biden stake his park commercial. The U.S. would like to sell it shale gas to Europe. But mostly it's strategic.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It's a bad deal because it divides Europe. It exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russia and Russian manipulation.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): More than that. It could block a key Biden foreign policy plan, a strong transatlantic alliance.

MELVIN: Nord Stream 2 is really becoming the litmus test of whether the Biden administration can rebuild an effective transatlantic relationship.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is key to the success of strong U.S.-Europe relations, opposes the Nord Stream 2 sanctions and wants the pipeline completed.

MELVIN: They're trying to explore a deal that would allow the pipeline to go ahead.


MELVIN: But in a way kick the problem down the road. So politically, they'll put in place a mechanism that will allow say snap backs of sanctions on Russia if it behaves badly.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But Biden is under pressure from Republicans not to compromise. And in a bipartisan letter and other documents, members of Congress are pressing the State Department to stay strong on sanctions and explain any conversation with Germany about Nord Stream 2. The Russians are hoping Merkel, who had a stormy relationship with former President Trump who initiated the sanctions will get her way with Biden.

KORTUNOV: The expectation in Moscow is that Biden might be forced to make a couple of concessions not to Putin, not to the Kremlin, but rather to Angela Merkel.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Biden is being tested at home and by Putin. The stakes are huge. Russia succeeds gains leverage over Ukraine divides Europe, weakens the transatlantic alliance. Everyone's options limited.

MELVIN: This is an area in which Germany is really alone. Its European neighbors are against it. The E.U. is against it. And the U.S. is against it. So, it's not just for the Biden administration to find a way out but also for Merkel and her allies to find a way forward.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): With more than 90 percent of the pipeline completed and Russia actively laying pipe, time for a solution is dwindling -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


CURNOW: Just ahead on CNN, the controversial interview expected to chip away at the mystique of the British royal family. Why Meghan Markle says she's opening up now to Oprah Winfrey.





CURNOW: Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex airs on Sunday. In the latest clip released, Meghan Markle tells Winfrey why she's speaking out now.


MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: So as an adult, who lived a really independent life, to then go into this construct that is different than I think what people imagine it to be, it is really liberating to be able to have the right and the privilege, in some ways, to be able to say yes. I mean, I'm ready to talk.

OPRAH WINFREY, ACTOR AND ACTIVIST: And say it for yourself and not have to consult with anybody at this point.

MARKLE: Yes, to just be able to make a choice on your own and just be able to speak for yourself.


CURNOW: So this interview comes as Buckingham Palace has announced it will investigate allegations that, at one point, Markle bullied several staff members.

Meanwhile, Prince Philip has moved back to King Edward VII hospital on Friday. Buckingham Palace reports the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth underwent a successful heart procedure at a different hospital on Thursday. So, joining us now from outside this hospital in London is CNN's Anna Stewart.

Anna, hi. Certainly, a lot going on. And no doubt, a huge amount of concern for Prince Philip, who is in that hospital behind you, but also concern within the royal family about this Hollywood style interview that airs on Sunday. ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We've had a barrage of royal

news in the last couple of weeks, haven't we, with lots of salvos from Team Sussex in California, all leading up to this big interview with Oprah, that broadcasts on Sunday night.

I'm sure there is concern within the royal family but, of course, we don't really get any comment from them on this. All they've said is that they will investigate some of the allegations that came out in the week, suggesting that the Duchess of Sussex may have bullied some of her staff.

In terms of the interview and the comments we've seen, it's been a no comment. I think what's so concerning is this is very much a Hollywood style interview and breaks with everything the royal family generally do. It is something is Sussexes can do. They are no longer working members of the royal family. They can speak to who they want to in terms of the press.

What is perhaps concerning is how this is playing out on the global stage, how it is playing out on social media. People are really picking sides. Some of Meghan's friends have come out on social media. One of them is her costar from "Suits," Patrick J. Adams.

He's defended her character. There's one tweet that really caught my eye.

It says, "It's obscene that the royal family, whose newest member is growing inside of her, is promoting and amplifying accusations of bullying against a woman who herself was basically forced to flee the U.K. in order to protect her family and her own mental health."

So what we're seeing is also pointing the finger now at the royal family -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes, certainly, and the institution and the queen herself. Let's also talk with what the queen is dealing with. Her husband is in the hospital behind you.

How is he?

Do we have any indication of how Prince Philip is doing?

STEWART: Prince Philip has now spent 18 nights in hospital. This is his longest stay ever. Everyone is extremely concerned about his health. He had a procedure for a pre-existing heart condition on Wednesday. That was at different hospital, St. Barts, but he moved here just two days after it.

He's continuing treatment. We're not quite sure whether that's to do with the heart condition or the infection he was also being treated for. But he's expected to stay here for a number of days.

For the queen, it's going to be business as usual; tomorrow she marks Commonwealth Day. Normally it would be at Westminster Abbey surrounded by all the senior working members of the royal family. It will be virtual this year, broadcast on the BBC on television. So,

you're going to have that hours before the Sussexes' Oprah interview. This time last year, the Commonwealth Day commemoration was the last official engagement for the Sussexes before their big break.

CURNOW: Thanks for that, Anna Stewart in London.

When we come back, hotel quarantines, fewer flights, this is the life for airline pilots during the pandemic. Several of them tell us how they're navigating their changing business.





CURNOW: Welcome back.

So many pilots have had to adapt to new ways of doing their jobs. Some of them told us how they're meeting this challenge.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): It's been, at the very beginning, I would say going back a year ago in March, there were moments where, by a company, we were the only airplanes in the sky when we saw the devastation hit the airline industry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): So today I will be flying from (INAUDIBLE) to Abidjan (ph) on the Ivory Coast and I'll be coming back. In the front of the cockpit, we just make sure to wipe down everything every single time we switch crews.

So for example, today I'm taking over an aircraft which another flight crew left. I'm going to get into the cockpit, make sure we have our masks on, we will wipe down the thrust levers, the instruments, the knobs, the switches, everything to make sure we can start using the plane safely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On a flight with no passengers, you can really sometimes go out. The cabin is very, very quiet and you actually see boxes on the passenger seats tied, according to regulation.

And when you know that your country is struggling with the pandemic and you're flying in medical equipment, which is needed, that is a really, really good feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything runs on the spectrum from being fairly open, where you can still get out of a hotel room, you can walk around in the city, although be it social distancing and maintaining all the local regulations. And it runs from that to where I am now, sitting in a hotel, where I'm

able and free to move around the hotel facilities.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: However, unfortunately, unable to use the gymnasium. Then we have other locations where you're not permitted to leave the room. A new regulation might pop up in a destination where they're now enforcing mandatory quarantines.

Those in-room confinements, those quarantine rules create a constant change effect that then has a bit of a destabilizing factor on our ability to really plan for the future. Sometimes planning rest or even sometimes telling the family where we will be. So those challenges exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very introspective moment where you spend a lot of time by yourself and reflecting. So, it's never easy and that's the situation, especially when it's so out of your control. Just grateful to be among the people who have a job right now, as about 50 percent of people are unemployed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of us are vaccinated but we're still tested and to go back to a hotel with no room key, sometimes without a window.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not the standard that will move the economy and the aviation back in the air. Global standardization will have to be something that we will all have to adopt. What is right in Tel Aviv will be even more in Chicago, in Delhi and Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should have some something that does not press mandatory vaccinations but doesn't put us in the back of the line, either. If we are facing a 2021 with the same level of the kaleidoscope of application of recommendations, it's just going to continue to make it challenging for us to recover. '


CURNOW: So, this that wraps this hour of CNN. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm going to hand you over to Kim Brunhuber for the next hour.